Movement Challenging Drone Surveillance and Warfare at Home and Abroad Gains Momentum

Real Audio  RealAudio MP3  MP3

Posted July 24, 2013

Excerpt of a speech by Code Pink: Women for Peace activist and author Medea Benjamin, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

drone

Drones were in the news again as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula last week confirmed the death of its second-in-command in Yemen, Said al-Shihri by a U.S. drone strike. While President Obama and many Americans support the use of drones to target terrorists, a growing number of people in the U.S. and around the world take a different view.

Medea Benjamin is an outspoken peace activist and opponent of drone warfare. As co-founder of the group, Code Pink Women for Peace, she has led innumerable protests both inside official government hearings and outside on the street since 2002. She has led delegations of women and men to many of the world's hot spots, including Israel-Palestine and Iraq and Iran. In recent years, she has traveled to the nations where U.S. drone strikes have been carried out, including Pakistan and Yemen. Her newest book is titled, “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.”

In a talk July 14 in New Haven, Conn., Benjamin noted that only two percent of those killed by drones were on the U.S. government’s high value target list, such as al-Shihri. The majority of those killed by drones were deemed "militants," a term describing any male of fighting age found in the regions where drone strikes occur. In addition, hundreds of women and children have also been killed. While Benjamin expresses concern that drone technology is proliferating around the world, she is encouraged that the movement to stop the use of weaponized drones is also building.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: So one has to ask the question, how is it that the United States gets away with going anywhere it wants, killing anybody it wants, on the basis of secret information, and what if any other country in the world were doing this to us? It would be a declaration of war. There are now over 70 countries that have some kind of drone. The majority of them for surveillance purposes, but so were our lethal drones first surveillance drones, until we weaponized them. And there are many countries that have already or are in the process of weaponizing their drones. We also have to think about what's going to happen when our skies are full of drones, and there's only one reason why they are not right now, and that's because the Federal Aviation Administration is in charge of our airspace, and they know that these drones crash all the time, they know these drones don't have the same kind of visibility as piloted drones have. But, in the good old American fashion, the drone manufacturers have created a strong lobby group, and that lobby group now has its own drone caucus in Congress (Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus), and that drone caucus in Congress has pushed through legislation that says by the year 2015 the U.S. air space must be opened up to drones. In the meantime the FAA has given out special permits to different groups, government agencies, companies, universities, to experiment with drones, but the drone manufacturers are really looking at the police departments because they understand that there are 18,000 police departments in the United States and they want to sell drones to each and every one of them. And you can imagine after the Boston bombing, the kind of advertising campaign that the drone manufacturers have done with the police stations. So there are dozens of police stations that are now testing out the drones and these police departments, you know, are having a lot of cutbacks in their budgets right now...well, Homeland Security has come forward and is giving out grants to the police departments.

So what can we do about all of this? Well, the positive thing is that there is a lot going on. On the local level, there are already individual communities that are passing "no drone" resolutions. We want to tell you about some of these initiatives that you can do right here in your own community: pass a resolution that says "a moratorium until we know how these drones are going to be used" or get the ACLU and other groups involved in writing the regulations for the use of these drones. And at the statewide level there are many states that are involved right now in doing just that. Of course, the drone lobby comes in and tries to lobby: they would say, "but this is jobs, jobs, jobs!" That's why we need from the grassroots a voice coming up and saying, "No, we already live in a country that is way too involved in spying on us. We do not want drones overhead that will turn this into a 24/7 surveillance society and could possibly even weaponize drones and use them against us here at home.

This movement has really grown tremendously in the last year. In February of 2012, 83 percent of Americans said it was just fine to use these weapons. Well, in the past year, there has been a dramatic shift in public opinion, so that the last opinion poll came out and said there are 56 percent of the American people [support use of drones]. That's a tremendous drop in numbers. And I think it's because of the work that people around this country have been doing to try to dispel the myth that these drones are so precise, that these drones are making us safer. There are protests at bases all over the United States now where the drones are being piloted; there are protests at the headquarters of the manufacturers of these drones; there are weekly protests at the headquarters of the CIA, at the Pentagon, in front of the White House and in the offices of Congress itself because Congress has done nothing to do the oversight that it's supposed to do.

We're also encouraged now that finally, the faith-based community that has been so silent about this has started to stir. I feel this is one of the great moral and ethical issues of our time, and that we really have to get the faith-based community talking about the drones. There's also the beginnings of a movement at the universities, where universities are starting to do research about what kinds of connections are there between their engineering departments and the military in the research on these drones.

Learn more about growing opposition to the U.S. drone warfare program by visiting Code Pink Women for Peace at Codepink.org.

Related Links: